Engaging the Spirit
Do not store up for yourselves treasures
on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but
store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust
consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure
is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6: 19-21
Riches prick us with a thousand troubles
in getting them, as many cares in preserving them, yet more anxiety in spending
them, and with grief in losing them. G. K. Chesterton
journey toward good stewardship is a journey toward loving our neighbors as we
love ourselves. It is the journey toward embracing God’s plan for who we are,
while turning our backs on corporate America’s plans for us.
journey toward God and away from the temptation of over-consumption can be one
of the most difficult things we will ever undertake. In the highly materialist
U.S. culture, frank discussions within a community of seekers who are on a
similar path can be supportive. Regular spiritual practices that bring us into
the presence of the living God will give us courage and strength. Face-to-face personal encounters with those
who have too little, listening to their stories, and allowing ourselves to be
touched by their truth can give us renewed energy for the struggle.
can live out our commitments to economic justice by taking steps to:
Live more simply
Engage in responsible purchasing
Practice socially responsible investing
Live More Simply
more simply is a way to engage the spirit in everyday life. Moreover, in a time of diminishing resources
and climate change, when billions of people are living in poverty, it is a very
concrete way to love our neighbors and creation. For centuries, Christians have
chosen to live as simply as possible in community or alone. For them, the primary motivation may have
been spiritual development and nurture. We can still seek those goals today,
while also recognizing that voluntary simplicity has also become a way to live
out the call to economic justice by using fewer resources and focusing on the
importance of community.
The first step for many
individuals, families, and congregations is honesty about assessing what we need versus what we want. Next is the need to determine one’s
priorities and values. What type of lifestyle is faithful to our Christian
changes are often easily identified, but the long-term commitment to make these
changes can be difficult. Small groups
that meet regularly to discuss their commitments and share their progress
can be very helpful.
The Northwest Earth
Institute in Portland, Oregon has created several curricula for use
in small groups that speak to a variety of ways to live more simply, more
justly, and on better terms with creation.
Although the curricula are secular in nature, there is a spiritual base
and they are easily adaptable to a church community. Two courses that deal with simplicity and
can be used to begin conversations about what simple sustainable living might
mean to each individual and what a commitment to follow the words of Francis
Moore Lappe “to live simply so that others may simply live” might look like.
day we make choices about whether to buy and what to buy. These often casual decisions have enormous
consequences for people around the globe and for the natural world. These
questions for self-reflection can assist you in examining personal purchasing
- Does this
purchase add positive value to my life, my home, or my community?
- Does this
purchase harm or help the natural environment?
- Could I do
without this purchase?
- How else
could I spend this money? Could I
save it for the future or give it to someone else who needs it more than I
- Is this
purchase justified based on my faith-based values of economic and
There is useful information, suggestions, and
resources in Our Money, Our
Values: Building a Just & Sustainable World by Holly Hewitt
Ullrich & Catherine Mobly (Pilgrim Press, 2010).
be a more responsible consumer, you can:
1. Avoid buying products made in
sweatshops. Nearly all
retail stores carry goods made in sweatshops. In fact, most apparel is made in
sweatshops. You can avoid buying
sweatshop apparel by purchasing union-made clothes or those certified to be
sweat-free. These guides can help.
check out No Sweat, Green America’s program to end sweatshop
2. Buy fairly traded goods. Fair trade is an equitable exchange
between the people who make products and the people who buy them:
- It empowers
low-income, disadvantaged, and marginalized producers around the world.
- It eliminates
many of the “middle men” and directly pays artisans, farmers, democratically
run cooperatives, and other producers a living wage for their products,
appropriate for their country and location.
- It encourages
producers to engage in environmentally sustainable practices; respects cultural
identity; and provides healthy, safe, and humane working conditions.
- Most important,
it is a form of economic development, empowering poor communities and giving
them the resources to improve living conditions.
for fair trade goods include:
3. Use consumer and shareholder activism to
drive better corporate practices. Multinational or
other large corporations often contract with other, usually smaller firms, for
products. These products obtained from
subcontractors may be ready to be sold to consumers (such as clothing or food
to be sold by a retail store) or may be used by a multinational manufacturer in
the production of another product (like parts to be used in the making of a
car). Even though the large multinational
company may treat its employees and the environment responsibly, paying its
workers a living wage and good fringe benefits, its suppliers may not.
corporations need to take responsibility for the behavior of the suppliers in
their supply chain. They have the opportunity and power to require their
suppliers to operate in a just, humane, and sustainable manner. Many
corporations set the terms of their contracts with suppliers even to the point
of specifying, in great detail, the materials and production processes to be
used. But typically these contracts are
silent regarding labor and environmental practices.
and shareholders (people who own a company’s stock) who are concerned about
workers and the environment are engaged in pressuring corporations to establish
codes of conduct for their suppliers to specify the standards that must be
met. Independent monitors then observe
the suppliers to ensure their compliance.
the absence of laws to prevent abuses, consumers need to become more
knowledgeable and responsible, These organizations provide more information on
using purchasing dollars to drive better corporate practices:
Socially Responsible Investing
individuals, congregations, and other faith-based institutions have significant
savings and investments in endowments and pension funds, for example. These
funds can be, and many people argue they should be, invested in ways that are
consistent with the values of the investor.
Center for Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) is a
membership organization of some 275 faith-based institutional investors,
including national denominations, religious communities, pension funds, and
endowments, with a combined portfolio worth of $110 billion. ICCR is a leader
in the corporate social responsibility movement, pressing companies to be
socially and environmentally responsible. Each year, ICCR members sponsor over
100 shareholder resolutions on major social and environmental issues, calling
on corporations to improve their practices.
UCC Pension Boards and United Church Foundation are members of
ICCR and engage in socially responsible investing.